NioCorp’s demonstration plant begins testing in Quebec

NioCorp’s plant is processing ore samples from Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project to show it can extract and separate rare earth elements

NioCorp Developments (NioCorp), the US-based critical minerals company, has said its demonstration-scale processing plant in Quebec, Canada, is now processing ore samples from the company’s Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project.

A simplified process for mining niobium, scandium and titanium

The company explained that the demonstration plant project is intended to show that it can extract and separate rare earth elements from ore extracted from the project site, subject to receipt of necessary project financing. 

The plant will also demonstrate that a simplified process for potentially producing niobium, scandium, and titanium is technically and economically feasible, it added.

Niobium is used to produce specialty alloys as well as High Strength, Low Alloy (“HSLA”) steel, which is a lighter, stronger steel used in automotive, structural, and pipeline applications. Scandium is a specialty metal that can be combined with Aluminium to make alloys with increased strength and improved corrosion resistance. 

Scandium is also a critical component of advanced solid oxide fuel cells. Titanium is used in various lightweight alloys and is a key component of pigments used in paper, paint and plastics and is also used for aerospace applications, armour, and medical implants.

Rare earth separations in mining

“Our team is very pleased to see the demonstration plant begin operations, and we intend to closely monitor every step of this process,” said Scott Honan, chief operating officer at NioCorp Developments.  

“Many of these processes have already been successfully tested at the bench scale. Given our team’s years of experience in hydrometallurgy, including rare earth separations, I expect that we will demonstrate positive results. I also look forward to potentially demonstrating how our simplified process flow sheet can more efficiently and cost-effectively produce Niobium, Scandium, and Titanium.”

The demonstration plant will process Elk Creek ore samples in three phases. Testing is expected to be completed over the next few weeks, the company added that it expects to publicly disclose testing results after each operational phase has concluded.

  • Phase 1 is designed to demonstrate a new approach to the initial processing of the ore that NioCorp expects to mine from the Project site, subject to receipt of necessary project funding, including calcination, initial leaching, and rare earth extraction
  • Phase 2 is designed to demonstrate an improved process for the second stage of leaching along with Niobium and Titanium separation
  • Phase 3 is designed to demonstrate the technical viability of separating high-purity versions of several target magnetic rare earth products from Elk Creek ore samples, as well as confirming previously achieved high recovery rates for high-purity Scandium trioxide

The company said that the potential magnetic rare earth products include: Neodymium-Praseodymium (NdPr) oxide, Dysprosium oxide, and Terbium oxide. It added that it will utilise conventional solvent extraction (SX) technology to test a rare earth separation approach developed by NioCorp and L3 – the two companies have years of collective experience with the technology.

Honan added that once operations have concluded and data analysed, work can then turn to the design and engineering of the new process flow sheet, which in turn is expected to be incorporated into an updated Elk Creek Project Feasibility Study that incorporates an economic analysis of separated rare earth oxide products and the simplified process flow sheet.

As no economic analysis has been completed on the rare earth mineral resource comprising the Project, further studies are required before determining whether extraction of rare earth elements can be reasonably justified and economically viable after taking account all relevant factors, the statement concluded.


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